Manchester United aren’t quite in their best place right now, playing poorly and in desperate need of some wins – but one player that fans have been finding some joy in is Mason Mount.
Signing for Manchester United for £55m potentially rising to £60 million from Chelsea in the summer, many questioned what the idea behind the move was. I myself had some reservations, mostly about fit in possession and the fee spent on a player with one year left on their deal.
Mason Mount has spent most of his career operating in the final third, with his standout qualities being his spatial IQ, ball striking, receiving skills and his work out of possession. He has many second-phase qualities, but many felt that what the club needed was a player who could operate deeper than Mount is used to playing, controlling the tempo of games and breaking opposition structures through press-evading carries and dribbles.
Around the time of the signing, I described Mount to some friends as an ‘offensive facilitator’. From open play, he is not an elite creative player but he is also not quite a dictator from deep. What he does is he enables the team to function better when higher up the field by creating space for others with his movement and ball carrying, with his receiving skills offering an outlet for ball progression.
He also has a good range of passing and can play the ‘pass before the pass’ well. Finally, he has proven himself an adept finisher and his movement allows him to arrive late in the box and provide a target for United’s creators.
Without a doubt, he is a very good player. Many deny this, but it is agenda-driven to think he is not a good footballer, despite coming off what was a challenging season. He has a lot of very good qualities.
Having some concerns with the move was valid, but Mount’s recent performances are easing the doubts many had regarding his move to Old Trafford. He has raised the physical floor of the team, the Englishman’s engine is one of the best at the entire club and he has shown this in every game he has played for United so far, working his socks off.
The most admirable thing about his work rate though is that everything is done with a clear purpose and intention. Sometimes, it feels like players are running for the sake of running, trying to show something. With United’s new No.7, you never get that feeling. There is diligence and intelligence in his pressing, and he does not shirk his duties when tracking back. He isn’t afraid to put a tackle in either, and this honesty out of possession is something fans have been appreciative of, especially in a physically struggling team.
In possession, his first couple of games highlighted some concerns people had. He was often operating incredibly high up and not involved enough in United’s play as the side struggled. Whilst his actions were positive when he did get the ball, and he was involved in a lot of United’s good moments, he simply just wasn’t involved enough in possession. Then after the loss away to Tottenham, he missed some time due to injury.
Since returning from injury, however, the 24-year-old has been excellent in possession for United. Operating slightly deeper, he has translated his receiving qualities from higher up the pitch and been incredibly involved for his side. With the lack of a natural left back, Ten Hag has used Mount’s proficiency in wider areas when United are building play and it has improved United’s play in this area (although there is still a lot of work to be done).
His pass selection and general temperament in possession have been a positive for United, and his 45 minutes in the Carabao Cup win over Crystal Palace highlighted just how good he can be in that deeper role when United are functioning effectively as a unit.
That last part is not something that has been happening. United have been on an incredibly poor run of form of late, and whilst people will point fingers at certain players the fact remains that it is a collective issue that everyone must take responsibility for.
Mount is one of those taking responsibility; throughout his career, this has been a theme in his game. He has showcased great leadership qualities from a young age and is highly regarded by all the coaches he has worked with. When United went down to 10 men on Tuesday night, it was Mount going around organising the players and giving out instructions.
The value of things like this cannot be overstated, and as Erik ten Hag looks to build a better culture at Manchester United it is characters like this that will make the difference.
It is early days still, but Mason Mount has so far given a very good account of himself in a Manchester United shirt. There were doubts about the signing, some of them valid, but he is starting to show fans why Erik ten Hag had him as a top target, and long may that continue.
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